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Meromorph Games is a game company, creators of the card games The Shipwreck Arcana and Norsaga.

Meromorph Games Blog

Art and gameplay design diary as well as current news and updates.

Filtering by Tag: stars-below

Stars Below card deep-dive: The Ash

Meromorph Games

This is part five of a five-part series of articles on the design of the cards for The Shipwreck Arcana: Stars Below expansion.

The Imago is the only standalone promo card we’ve made for The Shipwreck Arcana. If you haven’t seen it before, it looks like this:

It serves a unique niche: trying to get 7s on the board. Plenty of other cards that care about fates in play never actually get the chance to look at 7s, because they usually cause cards to fade the moment they arrive. The Imago is a “trash can” (see part 3 of this article series) that doubles as a mantelpiece for displaying 7s, making them less dangerous and also making other cards behave in new ways.

And if you’re wondering why we’ve spent this post talking about an old card instead of a new one, allow me to explain the purpose of The Ash:

Spoiler alert: it’s very similar to The Imago.

Much like its predecessor, this design is intended to make the usually-dangerous 7s into “safe” fates. Unlike The Imago, it makes them 100% safe, reusing the “comet” indicator as a way to avoid ever fading due to the fates piling up in front of it. Mix in a mandatory effect, and this single card flips the game upside down by turning 1s (and 2s) into the most dangerous fates to play!

This card basically summarizes Stars Below. It uses mandatory effects and unique fading. It has gold text and the comet indicator. It creates new play patterns out of regular old fates. It’s surprisingly simple, almost turning it into another building block.

And its artwork caps the narrative begun in the fictional deck of The Shipwreck Arcana, a year and a half ago. It will be covered in detail soon, in our final Lore post for the game: The Tale of The Stars Below.

Stars Below card deep-dive: The Musicians

Meromorph Games

This is part four of a five-part series of articles on the design of the cards for The Shipwreck Arcana: Stars Below expansion.

So far we’ve highlighted cards with new mechanics, but as we’ve already talked about, the game also requires a certain percentage of “building block” cards: simple, easy to evaluate, always useful. The higher the average complexity of other cards get, the more these building blocks matter as touchstones during the players’ evaluations. They’re also the hardest cards to make, because all the simple and obvious ideas are in the base game.

To find more of them, we’ve looked for variations on existing cards that eliminate unique ranges when played upon. We often combine this with increased context, making the elimination range depend in some way on what fates are already in play. This does require care, since a building block must remain viable even if no other fates are in play.

For a past example of a late addition to the repertoire of building blocks, check out The Lantern from the original Kickstarter’s stretch goal/expansion cards. Or, if you’re paying attention to Stars Below, check out The Musicians.

If this reminds you of base game cards like The Deep, The Key, or Leviathan, congratulations! It’s intended to fit the same mold. Add up your fates, check a number, see if you can play on it. These cards provide a lot of value because not playing on them often results in a very simple “Your fates didn’t add up to the target number(s)” deduction.

The Musicians finds a new way to twist this effect by letting you add three numbers… but now two of them are unknown. A single equation with two unknown variables isn’t the easiest to solve, but it does a nice job of creating N+1 possible outcomes, where N = the number of visible fates. We’ve seen this on previous cards like Asunder or The Prophet, which become less useful as fates pile up.

Is that a problem? Nope! Good news about building blocks: they’re most important early or when the board is empty. There are plenty of other cards that become more informative as they gain fates, so this aspect of The Musicians is right at home with its stated design goal.

Stars Below card deep-dive: The Fall

Meromorph Games

This is part three of a five-part series of articles on the design of the cards for The Shipwreck Arcana: Stars Below expansion.

The Thief was attempt at creating the simplest mandatory effect we could think of. Once we understood its potential, the floodgates opened. Well, not really. It’s still pretty difficult to come up with effects that meet all of our card requirements, as spelled out in the first post of this series. #4 (Reliability) becomes a particular problem; wind up with too many mandatory effects in play at the same time, and the game may suddenly grind to a halt.

So, filling the board with cards that can’t be played on directly is a bad idea. Okay, we’ve tried mandatory effects that siphon fates onto the card, which will ultimately cause it to fade. What if we bypass the fates altogether, and let the mandatory effect dictate when the card fades? Suddenly, we can care about something other than the “pips” on each fate in front of the card.

This unlocked a whole new set of ideas, culminating with The Fall:

This is what we normally call a “trash can” card. You can dump any fate here, but you don’t convey much information by doing so… which usually conveys some information, indicating that this was your “best” worst option and implying a lot about the other cards in play. Compound that with the fact that this card has no moons. Instead, it introduces the “comet” indicator, which means that you have to read the card to determine when it fades. The actual fade criteria becomes dependent on your hidden fate, allowing you to convey information simply through acknowledging whether or not it will fade this turn.

There’s a lot going on with this effect. The “at least twice” bit is to let it pile up more fates than normal, something that often makes other cards (like The Prophet) more interesting. Also, keep in mind that even if you don’t play on this card, it could still fade, so the more times you throw trash in it, the more you risk someone being stuck with a 1 or 2 and watching it fade helplessly.

Finally, this combined with The Thief shone a light on something I’ve dubbed the “fade cascade,” where the mandatory effects mean that you have an increased likelihood of seeing multiple cards fade in the same turn (previously encountered when playing with The Feast). Sometimes a cascade is bad, creating tons of doom at once. Often, though, it’s a blessing in disguise: a single correct guess can avoid multiple fade penalties, and one way or another you wind up with a lot of powers at your disposal.

This increased prevalence of fading ultimately lead us to tweak our approach to the new cards’ faded powers, which we’ll spotlight later.

Stars Below card deep-dive: The Thief

Meromorph Games

This is part two of a five-part series of articles on the design of the cards for The Shipwreck Arcana: Stars Below expansion.

Last time, we talked about The North Wind and how to make a card unique by caring about a new piece of game state. Today, we’ll talk about the second and far more interesting bit of uniqueness that underpinned the Stars Below card designs: mandatory effects, otherwise known as gold text.

This began with the following idea: could a card have a static, “always on” effect, warping the game state and the way you play while it’s out? Rather than providing information directly, when you play on it, it would provide information passively, at all times. This additional information would be mitigated by the fact that it eats up one of the four arcana card slots, giving you fewer places to play.

Some initial brainstorming lead us to what would ultimately become The Thief:

This card is surprisingly close to our initial ideas, but we learned a lot from it. For starts, “passive” cards need a way to fade, so that the game state continues to progress. That means they ideally want to siphon fates onto themselves somehow. In turn, this meant that we began exploring thresholds for “move a fate onto this card” that would convey information when you executed it.

We’re excited for everyone to try out these new “mandatory effect” cards, as they create some of the most unusual turns compared to how the base game plays. Intriguingly, we eventually found that they also give rise to the “fade cascade” which we’ll talk about in the next post.